Saturday, 11 January 2014

Worm composter update

A few months back, my (amazing) husband converted this broken down (irreparable) freezer into a worm farm (affectionately known as "The Wormery").

It's situated in the garage up on blocks to facilitate drainage for collecting worm wee.  I posted about The Wormery before, but didn't show you detailed pictures about the construction at that time due to technical problems with the computer where the pictures were stored at that time.  If you must know more, here's the breakdown:

First, Kelly built up from the bottom to create a false floor halfway up.  This is for easy access and also good drainage/airflow.  He used pavers (found on free cycle) and non-pressure treated lumber scraps leftover from the many projects here at Little Home In The Country.  Don't use pressure treated wood as it leaches harmful chemicals into your worm farm.

*  Note the hole in the bottom of the freezer (pre-existing from the factory).  Don't plug it!  You WANT excess moisture and worm wee to drain out as it's great for mixing up in a tea to fertilize your plants.

Next, he cut two 2x6's to fit the space and laid them across the vertical blocks of wood (supports).  They are stable and don't wobble.  It's all rock steady.

On top of those, he placed 1x4's (commonly used for strapping) to create another air space.

On top of those, he placed a section of perforated, aluminium soffit material.   This will form the base that we start building our worm habitat on.  Notice that the perforations push DOWN to facilitate drainage.  

On top of the soffit material, he spread washed pea gravel (robbed from the driveway).  We really don't want standing water anywhere in this system to reduce odour and provide a healthy environment for the worms.  Lastly, he laid out landscape fabric (leftovers from the previous owners of this home).  This is important to keep any casting and debris from settling in the rocks which will eventually work it's way down and plug the drainage.  Kelly taped it well up the sides of the freezer (gorilla tape) to prevent it from slipping down and leaking sediment down the sides (sorry no pictures of that).

Finally, it was time to bed the area and move the worms in!  I laid out newspaper, ripped/shredded paperboard (toilet rolls, mainly) and moistened it all well.    Very unceremoniously, I dumped the ice cream pail of worms and compostables given to me by my friend.  I didn't feed them anything extra, as because you can see, there were quite a lot of food scraps in the pail already.  I used a watering can to lightly water it all in but was careful not to drench it.

I left the whole thing for a good week or so to settle.  Truthfully, I think it was longer than that, because I didn't want to overload the system with food when there was still food for the worms there. I knew that they'd need time to adjust to the new environment and settle in.

Eventually, I added food for them and now am in a good routine of feeding them about once or twice/week.  The bulk of our food/kitchen scraps go the hens and anything chicken related (scrap wise) goes to the dog.  We don't feed chicken to chickens!   I save all our tea leaves and coffee grounds for the worms in a separate bin and we add in a few fruit and veggie scraps plus some crushed eggs shells for grit.   I keep an eye on the moisture level in The Wormery.  The bedding material should resemble a wrung out wet sponge.    A simple sprinkle with a watering can provides moisture if needed.

*A special note about drainage.  Kelly put the freezer up on blocks but he was careful to put the side OPPOSITE the drain hole up HIGHER.  This means that any water/wee that makes it's way to the bottom will not stagnate ~ it will drain out the hole right away.  You don't want a level worm farm!

Eventually, after about 6 weeks, we started to see some moisture seep out of the worm farm.  YIPPEE - that brown stuff is like liquid gold!    To avoid evaporation, we are going to fit tubing into the hole and direct the wee into to a lidded jug.  

Below is a picture taken just the other day.  You can see the worms happily making their way through the tea leaves and coffee grounds.  It's moist in most areas but not all.  They can move to where they are comfortable.  I have seen tiny white eggs and very small baby worms (hard to picture), so breeding is happening!  This must mean that conditions are good for them.  

I have started to cover the top of the bedding with newspaper to keep moisture in.  It's winter here and it's DRY.   The top of the bedding was drying out and the worms were all at the bottom where it was moist.  Because worms can't talk, I need to "listen" to them by observing them and respond to what they are "saying".   The worms do seem to like this extra protection and are busier at the surface of the bedding now, so I think I've averted any problems with dry out.  As well, I've been adding shredded dampened toilet rolls to the bedding when I feed the kitchen scraps, which gives them a balance of new food to eat at their discretion.  

As to the water - I've been filling buckets with snow from right outside the garage door.  Rain water is better for the worm farm than tap water is, plus, it's more convenient than hauling water from the house.    This bucket of snow will melt in the garage and I simply fill my watering can with it.  Easy peasy!

I have yet to harvest castings (or worms for the hens), but it's early yet in the life of my worm farm.  I'd like to build up the population and the size of the bedding area before I start harvesting anything (other than worm tea) to avoid a collapse.  Once I see a big growth in population, I'll begin to slowly feed my hens a few worms (vital for winter health when they can't scratch in the garden).  Given how many babies I see in there, I'm hoping that will be very soon.

We are certainly not experts at this and are learning as we go.  So far, so good, but we are in the early months yet.  I'll keep you posted!  

****** Edited to add******

Hi again.  I forgot to mention the lid.  It's important that the lid of the freezer NOT close tightly.  Kelly screwed a few long screws into the top lip of the freezer to prevent the lid from closing all the way.  We like this method because it's adjustable.  We can unscrew the screws a bit more if we want more airflow (in hot humid weather), or screw them down more when we want more heat and moisture to stay in (in winter).    See the first picture for how the lid looks right now (small air gap as it's cold and dry here).


  1. That looks amazing! I've got a shop brought wormery but no worms! I need to get it set up and start using it really! Great use of an old freezer!

    1. Thanks, Kev! My hubby is a rock star - he can make anything out of scrap and salvaged materials. :)

  2. Nice clear instructions there, thanks and all recycled materials !

    1. Thank you :) We didn't spend a penny on the worm farm which is wonderful not only for the budget but also for using up materials laying about.

  3. A very interesting post. I love how it is all recycled, well done!